According to Scripture, the reason we die is because of our sin. God told our first father Adam that the day he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would “surely die” (Gen. 2:17). The prophet Ezekiel tells us that the soul that sins shall die (Eze. 18:4). And in Romans, the apostle Paul teaches us that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), contrasting this with the gift of God, which is eternal life.
And so death is clearly the result of sin. But one of the things that Scripture also teaches us is that death is something we taste. And this means that sin is the cook, and death is the dish he prepares. We see this taught in various places.
“Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.”
Matthew 16:28, Mark 9:1, Luke 9:27 (KJV)
“Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death.”
John 8:52 (KJV)
Death is something that we, a sinful and fallen race, must eat and taste. The word used in these passages is the ordinary word for tasting or eating (e.g. Luke 14:24; Acts 10:10; 20:11; 23:14; Col. 2:21).
And as with all eating or drinking, the experience can either be a positive one or a negative one. This same word is used by John when he tells us about the miracle at Cana. “When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom,” (John 2:9). But then, on the cross, when Jesus was offered an anodyne, He refused it. “They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink” (Matthew 27:34).
So this is why Jesus took on a human body—so that He could drink death down, tasting it fully. This is why His mouth and tongue and teeth were first formed in the body of His mother, the virgin, Mary—so that He would be fully able to take in the acrid taste of death.
Consider what we are told about this in Hebrews:
“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.”
Heb. 2:9 (KJV)
Note that in this brief passage we are told two things about the Lord’s relationship to death. First, He was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death. We are then told that by the grace of God He should taste death for every man. Put these together, and you can see that Jesus tasted, really tasted, the suffering of death.
As His death approached, He Himself thought of it in these terms. “He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done” (Matt. 26:42). His approaching death was a cup that He would drink, and He knew the taste was going to be bitter.
So while He was on the cross, He was tasting the vinegar of death. He had there refused the physical vinegar that was offered to Him, not because it tasted bitter, but rather because it was mixed with gall, a likely pain-killer. He refused the vinegar because He was drinking the capital V Vinegar.
And this means that when He drank the cup of death in this way, a cup of bitter wine, a cup of vinegar, we might come to drink that same cup as a cup of sweet wine. As the great poet George Herbert once put it:
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.
This is a day of great bitterness, and that is why it is such a sweet day. Jesus went to His death in full submission to the Word of God, and how are we privileged to approach that same word now? What happens when we submit to it?
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come.”
Heb. 6:4–5 (KJV)
This text is speaking of apostates—but how much more is this true of those who remain steadfast.
But it says here that we have tasted three things. First, we have tasted the heavenly gift. Second, we have tasted the good word of God. This is a good word we have tasted, and no sour or bitter thing. This is Good Friday. And third, we have tasted the powers of the world to come. The Lord is the heavenly gift. The Lord is the Word of God, begotten, not made. The Lord is the powers of the world to come. The Lord Jesus is all, and in all, and through all, and over all. “If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (1 Peter 2:3).
Because we are in the Lord, we have tasted the bitterness of death. Because the Lord is risen, we can taste the sweetness of death. And apart from the death that was full of despairing hope, we have no hope.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, amen.